Saturday, February 2, 2013


It was during my yoga class today while doing my breathing exercises, which have become almost second nature to me, that I was brought back to a time five years ago when I became familiar with my own mortality. A reality in the chaos and utter insanity that had become my life that I had previously seldom if ever given any thought to sober or otherwise. Back then I didn’t give sober thought to much because God knows there weren’t many sober moments but plenty when I thought I would not make it out alive.

These breathing exercises reminded me of a few long moments in time when quietly I realized I was quite possibly going to be introduced to what lay across that great divide. Some people call it death. Many people fear it, some for good reason. After age ten I never so much feared it, partly out of my own ignorance, as I did respect it. Coming from a very large extended family I started attending funerals early in life. Sadly many of them were not good deaths but does anyone ever really die good? My parents were never afraid to show us the reality of life and for that I thank them. I recall on the trip to the hospital in the front seat of my buddies suburban, I struggled with every breath not sure if it would be my last. I fought for and welcomed every hard earned breath. I wanted more than anything to taste the sweet air and stay here with all of you. Laying there on that hospital gurney clutching at my chest weakly as they cut my clothes from my body, shoved needles into my veins and hooked me up to IV’s, I realized just how much for granted I took breathing in a very real sense.

I also made peace with God as I know Him just in case I didn’t make it through. Laying there the realization set it that because I had learned to respect death I was not so much afraid of dying as I was having lived right. Dying I’ve done before, too many times over. Dying was something I had seen happen in front of me. It was something I was used to. My dying was done in the cold, dark cells of jails and prisons, shitty barrooms and nasty, filthy apartments that doubled as whore houses. It was done dimly lit rooms with bad men portraying themselves to be your friend. It all took a piece out of me until I was emotionally and spiritually dead and ‘morally bankrupt’ to borrow a phrase from a great book I read. Death was my inability to feel for or care for anything or for anyone at all. Such was that inability that I wasn’t even able to hate myself anymore. So it was nothing less than a miracle that I would be rescued from myself and slowly over many years be taught how to live and be alive again. You see, living and being alive are two very different things.

Yes, all these thoughts passed through my mind while doing my breathing exercises during yoga. They passed through my thoughts in nothing more than a few moments not unlike those few long moments of five years ago but under very different circumstances. It’s amazing how much can pass through one’s mind in the span of a few moments. I have heard it said that when death is close your life passes before your eyes like watching a rerun of a movie. The question is will that movie of your life have been worth watching. I like breathing and I like my breathing exercises, they make me realize that I am breathing not just to live but to be live alive as I really am today.

In my mind there are only two things for certain in this life. One, we all live and two, we all die. It’s how we spend our time on this earth that will determine if we lived or not. I suspect those final moments will be quite different for those of us who choose to really be alive than it will for those who simply chose to take up space while they were here.

Some would say I am preoccupied with death. I suppose at one time there was much truth in that. I grew up feeling it all around me and spend a good portion of my adult years surrounded by it and the constant threat of it. My older sister recently said to me regarding a conversation about a relative that there are just some things she does not want to know about in the lives of those she loves. She prefers to remain ignorant about some things. Ignorant that is in the sense that it’s the smartest way to remain. I imagine that part of my life fits into her prefer not to know category. There are just some things that no longer need be talked about or thought of as part of life. That was another time, another place, another life I suppose.

With that being said if you read between the lines you will see this is all about really living and nothing about dying.

An old friend recently commented to me that she thought I had an exciting life. I don’t know how true that is or is not. I do know I have never been one to conform to social norms of most sorts. I mean c’mon check my record that should tell you everything. I have been fortunate to sit at the table and break bread with many interesting and notable people from politicians and known celebrities (and some in their own mind) to professional bank robbers, hit men types, millionaires, vagabonds, sinners and saints and lunatics and madmen of all assorted colors. I tend to attract the demented types. I traveled quite a bit and usually get up and go when I feel like for the most part. I have seen the sun come up over the ocean and set quietly in the mountains. I get to some pretty crazy parties and do coffee with a few genuinely inspirational gurus of sorts. Though this way of life is not without its share of anxiety, doubt and insecurity both financially and emotionally I don’t know that I could live any other way really. I guess if these things qualify as exciting I might be onto something.

As long as I can remember I roamed. I roamed whenever the mood struck me. I would disappear for months at a time only to re-appear as the same person just a bit spicier, wiser and wackier. I have always felt that if you’re going to really live, live out loud or not at all. For I know no other way.

Some people live vicariously through others while I much prefer that others live vicariously through me. I mean why let everyone else have all the fun. Let them go find their own fun is how I’ve always seen it. It’s not as if there’s a shortage on fun these days, if anything there’s too much to be had and way too many trying to get a piece of the action.

Getting back to living right, there is living right and wrong the socially accepted way or simply living right by yourself and others by way of your own conscious. The latter is the only one I really care about. For far too long I lived wrong by and did my share of people wrong. I never claimed to qualify as a saint nor do I think I would care to and am quite certain there are no halos to be scored in my future. Anyway there’s already a Saint Stephen who cornered that market. Though I wouldn’t turn down a set of wings if it meant I could help steer the wayward in another direction. Now that’s something I know a little bit about. But I will readily admit there are those out there who wish me no good life success and well, why should they. There are however also those out there who know I have worked hard at change and have done my best to live right and contribute positively to this world and these are the only ones I concern myself with. There’s not much I can do about the naysayers. Again, this is nothing short of a miracle and spiritual epiphany that I was granted a second chance at life, a daily reprieve if you will. I never have been the kind to look a gift horse in the mouth.

I was afforded an opportunity many get but few choose to reconvene, take stock and utilize our God given talents to live right. And what good is having talent if you’re not going use them to help others in some fashion? Living loud and using our experience to live right by doing what we think is right. Who are we if not a culmination of our life experiences? And it seems as if there is always little fear in doing the right thing and living the right way. Maybe because it usually means going against the grain and not being concerned with what others will think. Maybe because it means not following the pack nor even leading the pack but instead walking one owns path to wherever the road may lead. Sometimes that road might be a little lonely and sometimes it may even be a little scary. Anyway, I’ve always felt that if you don’t have a little fear in your life you just ain’t living.

Enjoying life just isn’t as hard as some like to think it is. Maybe they just want it to be because they haven’t yet figured out how to do it. Helping others enjoy it is even easier if you allow it to just be. Somehow I found a way to get out of my own way and just let it be whatever it’s going to. I can’t quite put my finger on when this phenomenon happened and I guess I pretty much quit trying to figure it out. I just got out of my own way I guess.

I have always been good creating and have learned to create the world I want to live in. I live and breathe to create hence the reason I practice breathing. I finally allowed myself to be alive and learn how to breathe. Words make me breathe. Words are the oxygen that feeds my soul, they give me life. These words you have read are me breathing to live and living out loud. There’s a lot to be said for breathing heavily, not being afraid to be alive and just living out loud. The only real world we live in is our own and who and what we invite into our world is our choice. We create and re-create who we are and who we want to be. We become what we create and in the end, what will that be?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Everyday of the Year

One of the many reasons I so enjoy being back in the city on Christmas evening is because of a personal tradition I have of walking the usually bustling city streets on a chilly night while they are almost deserted. With exception of a few others doing the same I basically have the streets to myself and the guy dressed in the Santa Claus suit peddling his bike down Clark St. It gives me a chance to think. Think and reflect and relax after the climax of the holiday season. I explore all that I am grateful for not just on Christmas but everyday of the year.  It's one of my favorite traditions and one I have missed out on for the last several years. Doing the Christmas evening walk on the beach is although thoroughly enjoyable and a heck of a lot warmer just not the same as walking down the city streets with all the streetlight decorations and store windows filled with ribbon wrapped boxes and shiny displays as Christmas music plays softly from the overhead store speakers all through the night.   

Since making the decision a few years ago to spend summers in Chicago as my parents get older I have since extended that to six weeks during the Christmas season as well. I am quite certain it is one of the best decisions I have ever made and one I'll likely never regret. The ability to be here in Chicago and still have my life out on the west coast is one though I live by design is  also one I do not take for granted. Nor do I take for granted the time I get to spend with my family and parents as they grow old. The thing that would most break my heart is to one day get that dreaded  though part of life call one that that they have gone on to a better place and  have the  feeling  rush through me that I missed out on their lives in their old age. The feeling that I could have been there more or done more to make it easier for them. I never want to for one second think that my parents might have felt alone or that no one cared especially their son. No never! That will never ever happen as long as I have a choice. We have all already for many reasons missed out on each others lives far too much during our youth and I absolutely refuse to miss out on anymore.

I took my traditional walk tonight and then went to my Christmas AA meeting as I usually do, it is my form of church and for most most part the closest I get to church these days except when my ma gets me to go to mass with her. I reflected on a lot even enjoying the chilly winter evening. I caught my reflection smiling back at me as I stopped to window shop. Then I jumped into a taxi for the last several blocks home. 

Once home and warm and cozy I sunk into the couch to reflect on my day and suddenly and without any warning I began to cry. I cried like a baby for several minutes. No, I was not sad to the contrary I was happy and grateful. I cried like I had not cried in a long, long time and it felt great. I cried because because I was overwhelmed by emotion and beside myself with gratitude and admittedly cry as I sit here writing. I cried because I realized that throughout all the hard times and adversity my family and particularly my parents have faced that God has been good to us and in their old age made life safe and secure for them  to some degree. I cried too because He has given me the ability and opportunity to be there for my family in whatever little ways I can and make life just a bit more comfortable for them. I cried because regardless of all the craziness, bad luck and bad choices their lives turned out okay and they go to sleep warm every night not in need of life's basic necessities. I cried because it was not always that way. 

My parents were never rich people and by many standards except for a few years in their brief married life they were barely middle class.  They have always just barely squeaked by  financially and there was never much room for extras but they were never afraid to splurge if they felt it would help morale of those concerned. They didn't come from solid financial stock and did not possess many of the living skills necessary to raise a family. They had difficult lives and were from difficult families. Adversity was nothing new to them. They are street people so to speak who know how to survive. Needless to say they weren't schooled in how to impart on their children the life skills many learn and acquire growing up. This never really bothered me as I learned from an early age to survive on my own. Not too long ago my older sister who assisted greatly in raising us said to me in response to something I told her my mother had said that 'for all they may have lacked in teaching us in life skills, they taught us things about how to survive in life just by being who they are that they don't even know they taught us, and for that I am grateful.' If anyone is a survivor my sister is. 

One of my prayers to God I vividly recall during a particularly difficult time in life  was from when I was just a young boy of maybe eight or nine years old . I called on Him asking that He always take care of my family even if it meant he could not take care of me. It was not as though I felt I was a martyr by any means in fact I am quite sure I did not even know what a martyr was at the time. Nor was it that I felt any less than anyone else, though that would be a personal obstacle I would later have to overcome. It was simply that I was just a little boy who was keenly aware even at that young age of the hard times they went through personally and financially.  I was simply a little boy who wanted the best for his family. I never had a great desire for toys, games and shiny new bikes at Christmas time but instead yearned only for life's simple things like money for food for the table and electric bills that needed to be paid and for a safe home. I asked that my ma didn't cry at night out of fear of physical harm or because of an inability to do for us what she really wished she could. I asked that my father not get hurt outside or hurt anyone else outside or inside particularly us. I asked that he not cry  by himself in the bathroom at night when I saw him sneak in there with a drink in his hand. I knew he never wanted to be mean but he didn't know how not to be. I don't know how I knew the things I did, I just did. Even my aunts would comment on the fact that I just knew too much for my age. I never wanted for myself because I knew deep down inside He would look out for me no matter what. I knew this because my ma had said so, so it was true. I also asked God that he give me the ability to one day be able to take care of my family and make them smile. Well, they say God gives you what you ask for and though it took many years He did give me what I asked for. For that I am forever grateful. 

There were years when my brother who is schizophrenic was homeless as was my ma and I did what I could do for them when I could find them. There were times my father could not pay his rent and moved from place to place but never gave up on himself or others. My sister did what she could but was trying to raise a family yet was still always there for us. Often life was not kind to them. Even now my ma has a hard time talking about the difficult times but in her old age is getting more comfortable with telling me more, maybe because she feels the years creeping up on her but still there are some things she can't talk about and I believe will go with her. I myself am only beginning to become able to share many of these things with others. An old girlfriend used to comment on how much of my youth was a haze but truth was I didn't want it to be anything more than that. I had selective memory, something I believe helped me survive emotionally.

I realize now the hard times I witnessed her go through was only a fraction of the hard times she survived. She shares stories of the rough times my father went through growing up but still doesn't let him off the hook for things he did though she does acknowledge he didn't know better. For his part my father does not deny his mistakes and in fact wholly admits them and has done a great deal to make up for what he did or did not do. One thing I can say is that neither of them has ever talked negatively about the other though I am certain they easily could have the ammunition to. No, they just weren't built that way. They didn't believe in turning family against one and other, their problems were their own and they didn't make them anyone else's Even when my fathers sister in laws during their own personal troubles would call on my ma to  jump on their band wagon and bash my father and his family ma wouldn't go down that road. She just never understood how someone could bash the father of their children and try to turn a mans own children against him because of their own marital troubles even though no one could rightfully fault her if she had chosen to do that. She was old school through and through. As for my father, even after all their personal problems and his destructive ways he sincerely taught us to never strike a woman or someone you loved and that loyalty to a fault to your family and those you loved was a virtue to be admired. I can't say he lived what he believed in the early days but he  truly believed what he tried to teach us. He is a real man who has always been loyal to a fault. He would kill for those he loved and would have killed anyone else for doing the things to him that he did to himself.  It would take him many, many years but he would eventually learn to love the one person he despised most of his life, himself. He was always a do as I say not as I do kind of guy. He like my ma came from a large family and never had a loving relationship with his own mother but always made sure over the years to remind us to have a loving one with our own. One time my father told me that after some reflection he realized that they got married not so much out of love but  in part because they came from like families. Both needed someone to get through life with and both could drink with the best of them. Drinking was a large part of their marriage and would for many years become a large part of my own life. I have always had great love for both of them but the more we talk have learned to have great respect for both of them. I realize it is as a direct result of who they are that I have been able to survive life's often treacherous waters. 

Every year I try to give them something nice and pay at least a few bills for them. The greatest gift is to see the smile on their faces when they get their gifts. Every year they never expect anything because they have never been the expecting type of people. But nothing can replace their smiles when they get gifts. I don't give because I expect only because I love them so much and want to make life a little easier. I am not rich but know I don't need to blow money on crap when I can use it on my family. When I come home we go out and eat all the time because I know they can't always do it. I am blessed I can do it. I am blessed I can help my daughter when she needs and give my brother some of life's necessities and few few luxuries he cannot himself afford. I am blessed I can pick up a few bills for my parents so they have a little extra cash on hand at months end when bills come due. I am blessed I can make my father smile at Christmas Eve brunch in a fine dining restaurant that he is not accustomed to going to. I am blessed I can find a special gift that I know will mean something special to my sister in her life. 

Yesterday my father thanked me for everything that I did for my family but I didn't think I did that much. I do what I believe is necessary as a son and because I want to do it for those that I love. I responded to him that I feel fortunate to be able to do the little that I can and that I will do more as time goes by. He responded it didn't have to do with money or things but  simply with the fact that I was there with them. That to him meant more than anything else could. It took me all I could do to not tear up when he said that. The simple fact that he knows how much I love them is all that matters to me. My brother being a little more comfortable in life or my daughter getting something she really wanted but couldn't afford or knowing my sister was able to be with her Marine son on Christmas is what means something to me. My father smiling at brunch talking about  how grateful he is to be with his sons. Me and ma laughing our heads off at  dinner Christmas day at the only place she wanted to go, the neighborhood diner. Packing up her leftovers myself and making sure she gets her coffee, not in a ceramic cup but instead in a paper cup the way she likes it and then walking her home through the neighborhood. Or making sure my father gets on the train home safely after a long and always welcomed walk and talk through the city. That's what I'm grateful for, not just this Christmas day but everyday. It's like ma said, through all the hard times God took care of us and it all turned out okay. It only gets better from here. I made it through a lot of bad episodes in life to get here and I wouldn't change a thing.

Just as I was nearing the end in this spilling of my guts the phone rang. It was my cousin, my fathers recently deceased brother's daughter. I was fortunate to be able to get home when my uncle her father was dying last year and spend several days with him at the hospital. We were close but had bad disagreements a few years prior. But I was able to be there with him at the end. She called to wish me Merry Christmas and hoped we could get together while I was in town. She is older than I and I never really knew her well until the past few years though she and my sister were very close. She thanked me for bringing out my uncle another of my fathers elderly brothers to see her and her husband when she was in Southern California recently. She commented on how she wasn't going to call me when she was in California even though she truly wanted to see our uncle as it was so last minute but her husband convinced her to at least try. She did call and it took no time  for me to decide how important it was for both her and my uncle to make sure they met up. I hung up with her, called my uncle then immediately called her back and the next morning we were all sitting down for lunch on the beach. They needed to put closure on his death and achieved just that. She said that she always hears about people and loyalty to family but truly witnessed in me. I responded I did what I believe is my duty to my family nothing exceptional, she begged to differ, I graciously accepted her love and thanks. 

My family for better or worse is who made me, they are what makes me. Those few I have in my life today are my family whether it be by blood or choice. Family is family and loyalty to a fault to those for me is the only way. I have survived in life and made it because of those things they taught me and didn't even know they did. Mine might not be the traditional Christmas story but nothing in my life has ever been on a direct path so I'll gladly take my story and love it. It took us a lot to get here but I'm ever so grateful for it.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

When The Mirror Looks Back

Self awareness is a funny thing sometimes. One can spend a long time, sometimes years, searching for and finding oneself and what makes their self tick. Yet the more self aware we seem to become the less we seem to remember that others might not be in tune with just how self aware we think we are or really care. The more self aware we become the more we run the risk of fooling ourselves into believing that we really know all that we think we do when in fact we probably don't know half as much as we like to think we do. Self awareness is something of a paradox. 

I spent a lot of time trying to take the time to learn about myself and who I am and to learn to rely on my own self and no one else. By nature of my own life experiences  I was forced to or in some cases forced myself to survive without the help of others assistance whether financially, emotionally or otherwise. I really believed I was doing the right thing by convincing myself that self reliance was the way to go in life. Simply put, I fooled myself into believing my own bullshit and I bought it. I became what I thought was so self reliant that I forgot how to really become emotionally attached to other people. I denied myself the ability to feel that necessary human need, emotional and physical contact. I like to talk about how so and so is a lonely person or that loneliness can kill and yet somehow I never even recognized that I myself was as lonely as one can be and still be breathing. Again, by nature of my life's experiences I have learned how to live in the shadow of loneliness never getting close enough to anyone for you to hurt me. Like shadow on glass, there and gone. 

Recently I had an old friend compliment me on how he admired my ability to be so transparent in my writings. But one can be transparent and still be hiding behind that transparency. I am not transparent by choice, no, I am transparent out of necessity to survive so I don't have to keep all the crap bottled up inside. I have been in the dark room with the gun in my hand and it's not a pretty place to be. I have felt the dark place in my heart and soul and it is a painful place to live in. You in an audience have in a sense become my therapist and the best part is you listen and don't talk and then I don't have anyone to answer to at our next session. I simply sign in, write and sign off. See, I realize that if I stay transparent in my words and in a sense put myself out there then you may not think about stopping to ask me who I really am or how I really feel. It's kind of like hiding in plain sight. I think I'm so good at fooling you that I have fooled myself and succeeded in keeping not only others at an arms length but keeping my own self at an arms length as well. 

What, you ask prompted this topic, these thoughts and this rant about my writing and transparency? Simple, some asked me who I really was today and how it was that I truly felt. I had no idea how to verbalize an answer, quite possibly because I had no answer. Then a few hours later a once potential romantic partner said that though I was 'really a great guy though' I was noncommittal and emotionally unavailable. Maybe because my special talent at remaining aloof has kept me from carrying through on my previous commitment to get together with that person. Possibly because a part of me recognized that that person is a good person and someone I could potentially get close to and care about? Like others before. Yet the fact that she said that didn't hurt so much as t made me feel alive. It made me feel alive because for whatever reason this time I recognized what she was saying because I had heard it before but until today had never listened. It got me thinking that it has been a slow and rocky road to truly believing that I do deserve good things and good people in my life. It also got me thinking that there really are no coincidences in life and the fact that these instances happened back to back likely means something more than I probably care to look at so once again you, my audience has become my counsel. It may not have even been as much about that particular person as it was about the idea that once again there was someone out there that I could get close to on any level that once again it scared me enough to run by avoidance. 

As a young kid I learned to rely on myself and as a teen I did the same. Prison taught me to trust no one and helped me hone the fine art of keeping people at bay. Sobriety and a new lease on life gave me the courage to change but I didn't let it help me to trust and let others in again, maybe for the first time in my life. Simply uttering the words, I was in prison, not once but twice,  is a major accomplishment in that I avoided it for a long time and preferred to keep it in my past life. But my past life is my present life and those experiences have contributed greatly to who it is I am, the good and the not so good. My father as recently as last night asked me to share things  about my life that although he was aware of didn't know the details to. I realized that in his old age I owe him that much. To finally open up, not hide by avoidance and allow him  to know his son.

I have no answers other than I am afraid to get close to someone even though I truly wish to do just that. Inside I wish for nothing more than that. Maybe it never happens for some or maybe we just won't let it. Sure there are a few people I am close to in this world and those few know who I am and are well aware of my character defects but love me anyways. They also know that aside of them and they are very few, that I don't yet know how to trust but I mask it as the self reliance and self awareness I think I possess. Yet it's not enough for just them to know it anymore. No, it's now a necessity for me to know it  and realize it and do something about it, otherwise I will end up just like Mick the old boxing coach I always joke about from the Rocky movies who says, 'lemme alone I'm just an old man eatin' a can a stewed tomatas'. That joke can become a reality. How do I know that it can? I know it can because I have seen it happen to too many others I have known. 

(To be cont.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

"On The Free And Easy" Part IV

(Following is Part IV of an unedited excerpt of my recent rants about my travels across America to Chicago via LA as they unfold with more to come every few days. I hope you enjoy.)

     It seems hard to believe coming from Chicago, a major American metropolis that there are many people out there across this great country that have never even seen a building over two or three stories much less lived in one. I mean yeah sure I know there out there but you don’t really think about it until its right in your face.
     When I met Shirley, a thirty-four year old single mother of three daughters it was in passing in the trains lounge car. One of her teenage daughters inquired as to why I had my head buried in my laptop. I told her I was a writer and liked to get work done on the train which in turn gave way to a conversation on my intimate knowledge of Chicago, LA and everything in between. Finally her mother Shirley joined us. The first thing I noticed aside from their thick southern drawl was the very small gap in age between Shirley and her daughters. If she was fifteen years older than the oldest it was a lot. It turned out that she had her eldest who was eighteen when she herself was only sixteen. There obvious excitement about their trip to Chicago was cool watch and they peppered me with questions about what to do and where to go. Apparently they had been given the trip by a relative who paid for a ten day stay in a nice hotel and all expenses. They opted for the train as they had never flown and were in no rush to experience it.
     As our conversation progressed it became apparent none of them had ever been further than a few hundred miles away from their home in very rural Arkansas. Shirley herself had only been to a major city in Houston once before as a very young child and aside of television her daughters had never even seen a skyscraper or more than a few dozen people on the street at the same time. I did my best to explain to them how crowded the streets would be with cars, pedestrians and row after row of buildings but they didn’t seem to totally understand it. It’s wasn’t that they could not comprehend what I was saying or that they were not bright in fact they were extremely intelligent. It was just that what I was trying to explain was so foreign to them that their excitement got the best of them. At one pint one of the girls stammered and said she felt dumb about not knowing what I was saying. I explained her being unfamiliar with where I was from was no different than my being unable to understand how they grew up. Shirley who was younger than I by ten years told me of how as a child her family lived in a tent near a swamp and regularly sawn in the swamp waters aside alligators and snakes. The girls laughed when they saw the sour, squeamish look on my face. Maybe I played it up just a bit to ease them on our worldly differences but in truth, I didn’t play it up much.
     The tales they gleefully shared with me about how they lived and played in the country made me realize how fortunate I was to have grown up where I did with so much diversity and culture at my fingertips. It occurred to me that except for a few major urban areas and medium sized cities that I considered tiny by my standards, the vast majority of America was made up of rural areas set next to sub-urban towns not much larger. Though I had been to some of these tiny cities and rural areas and enjoyed visiting them I could not honestly say that I had a great desire to ever inhabit one of them for any extended period of time. The boredom alone would probably kill me not to mention the lack of urbanity or anything to do on a regular basis. After being informed that foraging for a simple loaf of bread for dinner meant driving fifteen miles to the nearest gas station truck stop in a town of less than a few hundred people I had a new respect for Jewel Food stores or Starbucks. Quite honestly it scared the living shit out of me. I mean, no wonder there were stories of old folks being found mummified in their homes propped up in the rockers. Shit! No one would even know you live out there in the country much less check up on you, I thought to myself. Who needs that shit! I kept my thoughts to myself so I didn’t offend the women.
     Still it simply amazed me what a vast country we live in and how cultures clash right in our own back yards. It re-affirmed my belief that while all these people are running off to visit the cities of Europe and the ancient ruins in the Middle East they’re missing out on all the great history and geography we have here right at home in America. I once again vowed to not even think about going out of country until I have seen all that I want to see right here at home. Not being able to get a passport upon last application sort of helped forge that decision but just a little bit. But that’s a whole other story. 
     Texas is a big state with a big storied past. A lot of those stories are as big as Texas. So many of the folks I met on the train were coming or going from the big state.
     Between the big state and Chicago there was a whole lot of things to see passing me by in the window and a whole lot of time sleep. There is just so much to see out there in America that I am at times overwhelmed by it all. One of my simple goals in this lifetime is to see all that I can squeeze in and whatever I do miss I’ll catch in the next lifetime.
     Union Station was just around the corner and I couldn’t wait to see it again. Most of the stations on the trip were small and local and even those in larger cities such as San Antonio were tiny in comparison to Chicago’s Union Station. There is something about Union Station that just screams greatness and that speaks volumes about the true metropolis of urban America. I’ve been a lot of places and lived in several including some great cities but nothing can compare to Chicago in terms of, well, anything.
     It never ceases to take my breath away. The city breathing and alive never sleeping really, maybe just a late night nap but Chicago never truly sleeps. You can’t really compare it to anywhere else because it isn’t like anywhere else. It’s better than anywhere else really. I know I have done the right thing working towards having a home here where I love being on the streets and a home on the beach that I so love as well. That has after all been our dream since we all went out west to LA. No sooner do I step off the climate controlled train and into the true to Chicago weather high nineties and one hundred percent humidity steam bath that I start sweating. How I have missed her, the city that sleeps with me every night, the city that like a mother raised me to survive.
     A few days have passed and I’m back to work on the bar and floor at Butch McGuire’s one of the great loves of my life. It’s still the heart of Division Street just like it always was. It pumps life onto a street with so many nicknames that has seen generations of night crawlers come and go and some come back again. I feel comfortable here. The old saying is wildlife in Chicago can be seen on Division Street after midnight, so true.
     Roaming the streets at eight pm as dusk settle on the city I forage for food which has never been a problem before. It seems my appetite has shrunk a little and I have become somewhat picky with my choice of food these days. It is a healthy kind of discriminating taste. I walk down Clark Street to North Avenue and for no obvious reason decide to step onto the westbound North Ave. bus headed to Damen Ave. and Wicker Park. The streets passing by take me back in time.
     Stepping off the bus at Damen Ave I walk south hoping to discover my cousin’s restaurant at Damen and Division Street I have yet been to. I get there only to find that they are not there tonight. But what I do find is a neighborhood that has become boon of gentrification. What used to be an area one took there well being into their own hands traveling through is now a destination point for all walks of life. It amazes me how it never stops growing and getting better here.
     Heading back up the street to intersection North Ave, Milwaukee and Damen I run into a girl whom I met earlier on Dearborn and Schiller Street in the Gold Coast neighborhood where I wandered onto the bus. It was uncanny as I had wished I would run into here again and here she was walking down the same street I am in a completely different neighborhood of the city an hour and a half later. She had stopped me asking where Division Street was I assumed to hit the nightlife. Apparently she must have been heading the same way I was via a different parallel main street even before I actually knew I myself was headed there. I knew she must either be visiting or living at the all girl college dorms on Dearborn Street. I knew someone who lived there once in another part of my life and she reminded me of her instantly. When she stopped me I could not help but notice her intense beauty. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-one or twenty-two. I was taken aback by her ability to strike me with the memories of that girl I still think of on occasion. Her long dark hair was put back into a ponytail and her pale brown eyes reeked of mischief behind her school girl glasses. Her voice was soft and deep all at once in a gravely sexy way. I knew she was taboo just as the one before her was, the one she made instantly invade my thoughts.
     She stood at the bus stop and smiled “Oh, hi it’s you again” as if she already knew we would meet again. Again she asks me for directions as if running into the same strange guy and asking directions is a casual daily happening in her life. The one before her was like that too, just so casual about life. I think the taboo is what I liked so much. I wanted what I knew I could never keep. But I had her even though I knew the pain it would cause me and how it would quietly tear me up inside and eventually it did. Did I ever get over her? I smile and laugh a little. I don’t ask her for her name. I can’t seem to bring myself to. It’s as if I am afraid to know, afraid that it might be her again when I know it’s not but it reminds me so painfully of her, both painfully and pleasingly. I feel part two a story stirring that a part one has not even been written for yet. It’s a confusing, lustful and uncertain story full of laughter and pain, knowing and paranoia, passion and violence and filled with insanity. Ultimately it ends as quickly as it had begun, all of a sudden, if it actually ended at all.
     I walk away not understanding why I ran into her again. OMG she reminds me of her so much. I welcome the memories both good and bad that flood my mind. It seems I still welcome the pain it once caused that I thought I left behind. I know myself well enough to know if there is anything I have welcomed into my life throughout the years it is emotional pain. I almost enjoyed it to the point of masochism. Now I know I will spend the next several days with her on my mind. I know I need not even mention her name completely confident that should she ever read this she will know exactly who it is I am speaking of. I am not afraid to admit it is the obsession in my life that both paralyzed and exhilarated me and that I miss it.    
     My mind settles a bit and I find myself at North and Ashland Avenues standing in front of an old standby diner that I have been going to since I was a kid, the Hollywood Grill. It looks and smells the same. It’s bright and open and the smell of an old neighborhood in a good way. At the counter stands a younger version of the same Puerto Rican host with a ponytail. The servers that used to be called waitresses are still a mix of neighborhood girls and small town Midwest transplants of actresses, models, singers and dancers. An oldie but goodie by Donna Summers “Hot Stuff’ blasts over the ceiling speakers. It feels all too familiar. Last time I was here a waitress caught a stray bullet from the street in the ass.
     I ditch my bag in a booth and head for the bathroom. It hasn’t changed much over the years just a lot cleaner. Standing in front of a urinal with his back to me is a guy with slicked back greasy hair, neatly pressed slacks and a bright red short sleeved cabana shirt, the kind of shirt that hides your gun. In fact the bulge of the revolver handle blatantly sticks out. He has his cell phone propped up against his ear while he takes a piss and talks at someone on the other end while chewing gum. Stepping into the aluminum toilet stall I look down to my left and can see his shiny wing tipped Stacy Adams shoes, his right foots taps on the tile floor as he chews, talks and pisses.
     I’ve seen this guy before or others like him. Hell I’ve been him. Just a street guy trying to make a buck, greasy slicked back hair, snappy clothes, probably wearing a poker face hard and absent of a smile for so long that it hurts when you try to smile. I make the guy for a bookie, dope dealer or killer or maybe all of the above. His name is Frankie or Paco or maybe they call him by his street name Dago Richie or Flaco. Stepping out to wash my hands he is still standing at the urinal now yelling into his cell phone away as the song on the ceiling speaker changes to the Bee Gees “Staying alive”, very fitting for the moment that we have found ourselves at. I split and head back to my booth. He exits and walks by me unaware that I have just sized every ounce of him up. I see his face. Yep he is that guy I knew he would be. At the end of it all, I stop and gaze out through the blinds out into the busy city street and think I see her standing on the corner. She still won’t leave my thoughts. This is gonna be a long night.       

(To be continued)         

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"On The Free And Easy" Part III

(Following is Part III of an unedited excerpt of my recent rants about my travels across America to Chicago via LA as they unfold with more to come every few days. I hope you enjoy.)

     One thing the train attendant was right about was that everything over here was wrong and boy I loved it. It never fails to amaze me how the same street in the same town can be so night and day. On the touristy side of San Antonio was the Riverwalk filled with tony bars and clubs and swanky restaurants that all charged an arm and a leg for the same crappy food and drink. I mean yes it was nice an all but I had already been here before and after a few hours you’re over it. Conversely on the wrong side of the tracks was a little spot with the best TexMex grub I had in a long time.
     The place wasn’t much to look at and neither were the patrons. Hey, I’m no Rudy Valentino but these characters were like something out of an old Louis L’Amour cowboy novel. In fact one guy even had a few more teeth than his girlfriend did if that tells you anything. Fortunately they mad plastic cutlery because I’m not too sure I would have used the silverware in this joint. But again, the food was off the hook. I had pablano peppers stuffed with cheese and chicken with rice and black beans and fresh homemade tortillas and man what a meal! I opted for bottled water just to keep things safe. It only set me back about nine bucks and fifteen with tip. I don’t think people around here tipped much because the waitress seemed super happy with it. After dinner I didn’t stick around for festivities because I’m pretty sure a few guys at the bar made me as a tourist who may have lost their way. So I headed back to the other side of the tracks.
     I always liked San Antonio to visit. There are always interesting folks to meet on the train. On my trip headed west the previous summer is where I met Joey Moss when he loaded on a bus in Fort Worth back in September 2010.
     Joey Moss is a big, big man and all Texas. They weren’t kidding when they said everything in Texas is big. At 6’2” tall he weighs in at least three hundred pounds. Joey is a stereotypical Texas boy complete with the drawl, ZZ Top beard and trucker hat. Yet for all of his stereotypical southern Texas appearance he is surprisingly anything but.
     When I met Joey we were on a bus head from Fort Worth to San Antonio. The Amtrak bridges heading west from Chicago to LA had washed out in the rains and we had to disembark the train and load a bus to get us to San Antonio for our connecting train west. Joey had been dropped off in Fort Worth and was headed to San Diego by way of LA. He was squeezed into a seat behind me on the bus and when I turned around I could see his big ole Texas head looming over the seat. I thought to myself, MY GAWD where did this boy come from. As fate would have it we would end up in the same train car in San Antonio. Once we arrived we had a ten hour layover so I hit the town and was joined by Joey. We had dinner and hit a bar so he could grab a few beers, a few in this case being about eight in an hour and a half. He did everything like a Texas boy. We talked, caroused and I learned quite a bit about the history of Texas from Joey.
     He was from a little town called Pleasantville, Texas somewhere outside Abilene and was more moderate left leaning than what I had assumed he would be. Joey had a live and let live attitude. From what he told me although where he was from was pretty much backwoods country Texas in location it was fairly progressive in politics and beliefs and reasonably tolerant of all lifestyles. I was pleasantly surprised about what he had to say about his hometown. That being said he also knew he had nowhere to go but away if he were to have any kind of life. He explained that like most of his buddies Joey had done some prison time down in Texas but as he put it, ‘it’s Texas son, everybody goes to prison’. Another reason I avoid Texas. He explained that there wasn’t much to do and opportunity was severely limited save some factory work, rough necking and farming. It seemed drug smuggling was the biggest employer for Joey and his buddies. But these days he a regular guy just working the factory and had been on the straight and narrow for several years now.
     Divorced, he explained he lived of his ten year old daughter, Maggie who was his life. She was the reason for his life transformation from wild Texas roughneck, drinking, fighting, drug smuggler to regular Joe, working man. He was on good terms with his ex-wife and though their relationship was strictly based on his daughter, he had nothing negative to say about his ex even offering that she was the best mother a man could ask for his child. As well he was even quite fond of her new husband, stepfather to his daughter. Joey lived for his little girl Maggie. They spoke at least daily and often several times a day. He had recently purchased her a new cell phone so they could text and picture message back and forth. They lived only an hour apart which in back road Texas driving translates into about ten minutes. He carried several photos of her in his wallet and on his phone, he saved dozens of the voice messages she had left him. Maggie was his everything and his reason for living then one day that all changed.
     Joey was jolted from bed by a middle of the night call from his ex-father in law Floyd whom had been called by the local fire department. They notified him that there had been a fire at the double wide trailer in which his daughter lived with her husband and his grandchildren. He didn’t say much just that he needed Joey to get down there right away. The aching pain in the pit in Joey’s stomach was born not of what Floyd said but instead of what he did not say. Joey jumped out of bed and raced through the back roads in the pitch black of night to get to his daughters side. When he arrived his worst nightmare had been realized.
     The fire had been electrical and had spread through the trailer so quickly all there was time for was to gather the children and run out the door. Within seconds of getting the family out the door to safety Tim, Maggie’s stepfather immediately noticed she was not among their four children. He rushed into the trailer only to be forced back by smoke and falling debris. Running back outside he rushed to the rear of the trailer where Maggie’s room was located and proceeded to jump up six feet wrapping his arms around the sweltering metal air conditioner in an attempt to yank it out of the window to get to Maggie. The scars on his charred arms and chest from tearing the wall unit out were testament to his desperation to get to her. After crawling through the window and tearing her from her bed he fell back out the window with Maggie. It was already too late. Joey’s little girl Maggie, the love of his life, his reason for living and breathing was gone, overcome by smoke inhalation. She never even knew what happened. By the time Joey got there the ambulance was taking her away.
     In the days immediately after the fire and Maggie’s death Joey was completely devastated  and went on a drunken bender. It wasn’t until after he was visited by Maggie in a dream that Joey was able to muster up the courage to put down the bottle and pipe and face his life without his daughter. It would never be the same and he knew that but he also knew that Maggie would have wanted only the best for her daddy. He realized the reason she was brought into his life was to straighten his out and show him the true potential of who he could be. Maggie’s short time on this earth was to show Joey how great life could truly be. He promised himself, his ex-wife and his family he would not let her death ruin him but instead breathe new life into his. The way Joey saw it God gave him gift in Maggie and she did what she was put on this earth to do, save her daddy from a bad life. He would shame that gift.
     He knew his daughters mother was a good mother and knew her stepfather Tim did all he could to save his little girl. He knew the pain he must be feeling thinking he failed her and Joey made sure the best he could Tim didn’t languish in the pain of loss and self loathing. It says a lot about the character of a man who has experienced such great life changing loss to be able to step up and use his pain to help others he could easily lay blame on for his own loss. That isn’t the kind of man Joey Moss is. That isn’t the kind of man Maggie knew as a father. Joey did his best to ease the pain of others when the pain of losing his best friend could have consumed him. He sought out clergy, counselors and family to help him ease the ache in his heart if even just a little. He also made some hard and deliberate decisions on the direction of his own life. He would do as he thought his daughter and best friend would want him to do, keep on living.
     Joey quit his job, packed his house and kissed his family, ex-wife and life in Texas goodbye and headed west to hook up with a lifelong buddy who had a fishing business in San Diego. He wasn’t even sure if he would stay there but it was a fresh start to a new life. He figured he may even make his way up to the Big Apple and see the rest of the country. He had never really been in a major city and figured it was time. All the while he would have his daughter by his side and in his heart. Joey Moss left me with a lot to think about on the importance of life and who we are. He taught me about the strength of a man who could lose it all and still come back. The irony of having recently last summer been re-united with my daughter after fifteen years and having only been able to see her a few times in her twenty year life was not lost on me. Joey lost his daughter while I gained mine. There was a twinge of guilt, but the importance of the gift I had been given will never be taken for granted.
(To be continued)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"On The Free And Easy" Part II

(Following is Part II of an unedited excerpt of my recent rants about my travels across America to Chicago via LA as they unfold with more to come every few days. I hope you enjoy.)

     I’ve been on this ride before, in fact several times. I’m partial to long train trips, the longer the better. Whenever I book the trip the reservations operator always informs me of shorter trip options to my destination. To their surprise I always opt for the long way. A trip sixty some odd hours and it can surely get odd. It gives me time to decompress and see what’s out there in great Americana. As many times as I pass this way I never fail to be amazed by meeting new people and making new discoveries. I load up on Trader Joe’s trail mix and dried fruit and hit the road.
     I board the train and take my assigned seat next to an elderly black gentleman who calls himself McKinley. We spend the first hour getting to know each other and he fills me in on the short version of his life up to this point. Most importantly he informs me that he is going only as far as San Antonio. My ears prick up at that news which means that from that point on to Chicago I will most likely have two seats to myself which equates to stretching out my legs and some good sleep. I Mean hey, I like McKinley and all but two seats is two seats. After a few hours of meeting people, learning about where others are from, one of the great things about the train, chatting up pretty girls and train car carousing akin to a kind of a stationary cross country cabaret without the booze, I settle in next to McKinley for the night. We forego any cuddling. As usual I sleep out the night between Yuma, Arizona and El Paso, Texas then awake about seven A.M. just in time to catch the burrito lady at the El Paso station.
     I always look forward to the El Paso stop and her burritos. They’re small and simple with either bean and cheese or bean and pork but oh so delicious. Surely better than anything I can get elsewhere. The women herself is a very pretty Salma Hayek looking Mexican women her thirties who under any other conditions in any other town would probably have an easier life, maybe not necessarily better but just a little easier. I buy a half dozen to share on the train she thanks me under cover of a sheepish smile and eyes trying to retain their sparkle that tells the story of her life. I give her a de nada then turn to look out just past the barbed wire fence not too far off that separates us from them. Us from them, El Paso from Ciudad Juarez and I wonder just what she had to go through to get to this country just to sell me a lousy burrito, the American dream. I carefully remove the tinfoil wrap of a burrito, bite into it and taste the full flavor of gratitude and being blessed in my life for what I do have and not regretful or in want for what I don’t. Though it may sound a slight bit presumptuous, odds are no matter what I go through and what twists and turns my life may take it will probably always be easier than the life of the burrito lady.
     As I said, sometimes the trip can get odd and this day I awake in El Paso just in time for the floor show. At El Paso the dope sniffing dogs and their police handlers always load on the train immediately after it comes to a stop. Being a border town hour stop they have plenty of time to aggravate the shit out of passengers. I call the plain clothes train police professional Ball busters because of the chip they have on their shoulders for probably having been denied jobs on real police departments. They like to make a big commotion so everyone knows they have arrived. However to their credit they never fail to pinch a passenger or two for carrying pot or smuggling some other form of illegal contraband. You would think any smart dope dealer would know El Paso being the drug Mecca it is, is a bad place to have dope in your bags but apparently not.
     They stroll up and down the aisles of the train cars and discreetly take notice of the bags the dogs sniff out then exit. A few minutes later the same police return less the dogs to zero in on the bags and passengers in question. There is always a few. I am always very careful to keep my bags close to me. You can never be too careful. There always seems to be an opportunist smuggler around ready to use your luggage as a mule for the trade. Being no stranger to an occasional jail cell and the dicey side of life I tend to be a bit paranoid causing me to be a little more careful than most. Like most things in my life I play it close to the vest.
     They grab the bags in question from overhead compartments or off the luggage racks and the inquisition begins. After searching the bags and terrorizing the owners they either have a pinch or they don’t. If they do, well you’re sweet ass is going to be a resident of El Paso for a bit. If not well they leave you feeling unapologetically violated. Today they score and score big, two definite smugglers, a maybe and a possible illegal alien and his smuggler.
     While the passengers gather outside the train for fresh hot desert air and a smoke they watch the floor show. Two hippies whom probably like I are out of Los Angeles are frisked and led away in cuffs, the end of the line for them. A third suspect is freed after the cops realize he has nothing on him but for the remainder of the trip he will surely be known as a potential dope smuggler by other passengers and crew. The damage is done. As for the potential illegal’s, the border patrol on hand is called in to shine the bright light and make them sweat. They question them freely in front of everyone in the car only to find out that while they don’t speak English too well they are legal. In fact, as I later find out from them over lunch in the dining car one of them is a former Honduran police officer with US political asylum and the paperwork to prove it, while his assumed human smuggler is his nephew who does have his green card on his person.
     As they exit the train the train coppers appear dejected and bummed that their pinch this morning didn’t turn out better. All I can think to myself is, boo hoo, all they got was a couple of white hippies for their trouble. The coppers and border trolls go away and almost immediately the air quality level and passenger mood jumps exponentially. I hate to bust on the lawman but it comes almost naturally to me and in all fairness I bust on the taxman and G-man just as much if not more. I’ve never known a time when I didn’t have a problem with authority, nor have I know a time I had any respect for authority either. Time to get onto to San Antonio where I will disembark and hit the town!
     Staring out the viewing car window into Texas I realize that I’m still trying to find my way home wherever that may be. For right now at least home is somewhere between LA and Chicago and you know what, I’m okay with that. I’m here with some trail mix, a jug or water, a little Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Gypsy Biker’ playing on my IPOD, my laptop and a whole lot of ideas bouncing around in my head. Not a bad place to be.
     Wouldn’t you know it, just as I’m feeling all in touch with my feelings and nature and all that good stuff, I meet a girl. Maybe she’s not the girl, but a girl nonetheless. Considering my mood, current locale and the fact that she is pretty good looking she fits the bill just right.
     You get to meet a lot of personalities on a cross country train ride and every one of them has a story to share. Many I love to listen to and get to know, some I stay away from like a bad ex-girlfriend which is like a relationship with a great drug. You can love them from afar but not miss what they do to you. What’s all this with the disdain for authority and insinuation with drug usage you may ask. Authority and drug usage are just two of the demons I am all too intimately familiar with. Some of the people are just flat out strange.  
     The difference between meeting folks on a train and a plane is that on a train you have a chance to get to know them a bit more intimately. You get an opportunity to learn about the world around you through the experiences of others and live vicariously through them. So was the case with the girl whom I’ll refer to as Heather. Her name does not really matter, what does is what we learn from each other and that bit of humanity we impart on the other in a world that becomes more impersonal every day. One thing I am always ready to do is learn, learn and share with others what I have to offer. Though more often than not I am not quite sure of what that is I have to offer but I seem to get a little clearer picture of it with every new life experience.
     As it turns out Heather whom currently resides in Silver Springs, New Mexico grew up in Springfield, Illinois. I felt and instant connection when she told me that she had lived for several years in Chicago’s northside Uptown neighborhood that I know well. She’s on her way to Bloomington, Illinois to stand up in her mother’s wedding and like me, reconnect with her loved one’s. Heather is a Midwestern girl and college graduate with a masters degree who was formerly married to a law student headed for the big legal corporate life. However the plans and ideas she had for her life didn’t quite jive with his. So she gave up the safety, security and comforts of the middle class life and potential for wealth for the uncertainty of life on the road. In return she got the chance to see the world from the driver’s seat of a car headed west with no particular destination. She says once she took that right turn onto the interstate of life she never turned back and never regretted it at all.
     These days she lives and loves in a self sustainable community of a dozen or so others like her and often makes a work/trade living with some cash flow but only enough for what she needs. My kind of girl. At first glance natural beauty belies her true identity of a twenty something girl who is on her own and not necessarily looking for a home but finding out it is inside her. She dressed in a soft red flowing cloth dress that reminded me of something Native American women would wear. She wove water bottle holders out of rawhide leather. She spoke about what she found on the road and what she learned about herself. She knew she was not done travelling and that Silver Springs was not her last stop. Heather is an extremely interesting, intelligent girl with a direction and purpose and it never hurts to be beautiful.
     After a lengthy conversation I learn that she is neither running from anything or to something. To label her a hippie girl, granola girl, tree hugger or anything of the like would not be correct and would not by far do her justice in fact it would probably be an insult. She is simply Heather, a girl who knows who she is and what she is about. We had a great conversation about life and what is necessary for a good life in the simplest terms. She spends her time in nature and seems to be a student of life and a teacher to those who desire to learn. She is unlike so many, seemingly satisfied with her life at present and has plans for her future that not surprisingly include helping others and sharing her life’s experiences.
     The thing that makes the trip so interesting is the people. It’s through the people I meet that I learn about the places I want to go and the different things I want to see. I’ve visited a lot of places seen a lot of things and have only scratched the surface of what’s out there. It’s about time to start seeing some more.
     Ah San Antonio, Texas! Nice town but I wouldn’t want to live here. Actually I’m pretty sure there’s no place in Texas I would want to live. No sooner did the train pull in at nine thirty pm for ten hour layover than passengers started jumping off the train to hit the town and the tourist trap known as the Riverwalk. The attendant directed everyone to go to the left of the station for the Riverwalk and to stay away from the right side of the tracks. The irony was not lost on me that the right side of the station was the wrong side of town at least in some eyes. Wouldn’t you know it no sooner did he waste his breath than my feet carried me to the right side of the station. You see I’ve always been a student of the dark side of anything, Ever since I can remember if someone told me to stay away from somewhere that was exactly the place I wanted to be. Hell, anyone can tell you that all the fun is on the wrong side of the tracks. But only a few of us will admit that’s where they love to be. I’ve always been drawn to the underbelly of life. Not to mention I was starving and all the really good food is always in the shit hole restaurants on the wrong side of town which in this case was on the right side of the tracks. Giddy up cowpokes Stevie C. comin’ to town!

(To be continued)